Recipes from Rachel Allen: Blood simple... oranges
With the citrus season in full swing, Rachel Allen slices in to the dramatically coloured, and even more dramatically named, blood oranges. Photography by Tony Gavin
An intense citrus flavour with a zing redolent of raspberries, the blood orange is high up on the list of my favourite fruits. They're usually a treat that appears in our shops at Christmas, and they usually stay on the shelves until about the end of March.
Most of the blood oranges that we eat come from the foothills of Mount Etna in Sicily, where the weather is ideal for growing them. In order to ripen properly and deepen in their characteristic blood-red colour, a cold snap is needed. Thus, consistently warm Florida, though it's home to most of the world's oranges, is an unsuitable climate for growing blood oranges.
The red pigment is an antioxidant, and so is thought to bring health benefits that include combating obesity and heart disease.
The blood orange, like its cousins, loves earthy flavours, such as beetroot or the deeply savoury tang of goat's cheese. Their sweetness also makes them a delightful pairing with seafood, such as scallops and crab.
Their flavour is distinctive, but any recipe that uses oranges will work just as well with blood oranges - often better. Try making sorbets or even upside-down cake. Just make sure to taste them first, as you may need to adjust the amount of sugar depending on their sweetness.
When I cook with blood oranges I try and make dishes that really show off the fruit's stunning colour. It would be a shame to bury that vivid scarlet in a mountain of other ingredients, or drown it with other colours. The salads that I've made here use different colours so that the red really stands out.
Look out for blood oranges in your local greengrocer. I've seen them this year at The Happy Pear in Greystones, Co Wicklow; Fallon and Byrne in Exchequer St, D2; Cavistons Food Emporium in Sandycove, Co Dublin, as well as in my own local: the wonderful Village Greengrocer in Castlemartyr, Co Cork.
Crab and blood orange salad
You will need:
3 blood oranges, see my Tip, above
400g (14½ oz) cooked crab meat
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
2 avocados, cut into roughly 1cm (¼in) dice
50ml (2fl oz) extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped dill, chopped coriander, or chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A few handfuls of salad greens, to serve
To segment the blood oranges, use a small knife and work over a bowl to catch the juice. First, cut off the ends of one of the blood oranges, then carefully cut the peel and pith off, in a spiral, until you have a peeled blood orange with only flesh and no pith. Next, carefully cut in along the edge of each segment, leaving behind the membrane and freeing a wedge of orange flesh from the pith. Repeat until you have all the blood-orange segments, and place them in the bowl. Squeeze the peel and remaining membrane over the bowl to extract any juice, then discard. Repeat with the other blood oranges.
Add the cooked crab meat, the thinly sliced red onion and the diced avocados into the bowl containing the blood-orange segments and toss everything gently. Drizzle over the 50ml (2fl oz) of extra-virgin olive oil, the sherry vinegar and the chopped dill, or the chopped coriander or the chopped parsley, whichever you're using, and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Toss once again - gently, so as not to break up the orange segments.
Place a small handful of the salad greens on each plate, or put them all on one large platter, drizzle with a little extra-virgin olive oil, then spoon the crab and blood-orange salad over the top, and serve.
Scallops with Brussels sprouts, bacon and blood orange
You will need:
4 prepared scallops, including the corals
3 rashers of streaky bacon (100g/3½oz), cut into 2cm (¾in) dice
100g (3½oz) Brussels sprouts, outer leaves discarded, sliced about 5mm (¼in) thick
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
15g (½oz) butter
1 large blood orange, peeled, segmented (see previous recipe for method) and juice reserved
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar or lemon juice
If your scallops are in the shell, the meat and coral need to be removed. To open the scallops, place each scallop on a board with the flat side of the shell facing up. Insert the point of a knife between the top and bottom shells and slice across the underside of the top shell to cut through the internal muscle. Pull the top and bottom shells apart. Pull off the outer membrane of the scallop with your fingers, and remove the coral, keeping it intact. Dry the scallops and corals on kitchen paper. This can be done earlier in the day and the scallops and corals can be stored, covered, in the fridge.
Place a frying pan on a medium-high heat, add the diced streaky bacon and cook for about five minutes, tossing regularly, until it is golden and very crispy. Drain the fried bacon on kitchen paper then keep it warm on plate in a low oven, reserving the fat in the pan.
Place the pan back on a medium-high heat and allow it to get hot, then add the sliced Brussels sprouts. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and cook, tossing frequently, for about three minutes, or until the sprouts have coloured and slightly softened. You may need to add one tablespoon of water if the sprouts dry out too much. Transfer the Brussels sprouts to a bowl and keep them warm in the oven with the bacon.
Season the scallops, including the corals, with a little sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place a non-stick frying pan on a medium-high heat and add a small knob of butter. Put the scallops directly into the pan in a single layer. Cook them on one side for 1-2 minutes or until they are a light golden colour, before turning them over to cook the other side for the same length of time.
In a large bowl, mix together the warm Brussels sprouts with the fried bacon, the blood-orange segments and the reserved blood-orange juice, and the sherry vinegar or the lemon juice, whichever you're using. Taste for seasoning, adding more sea salt and freshly ground black pepper if necessary, and divide between plates. Add the cooked scallops and the corals and serve.
Chicken, fennel and blood orange salad
You will need:
25g (1oz) butter
1 chicken (1½-2¼kg)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 bulbs of fennel
Zest and juice of ½ lemon
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 large handfuls of salad leaves
2 blood oranges, peeled and sliced
2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
Preheat the oven to 180°C, 350°F, Gas 4.
Smear the butter over the skin of the chicken and sprinkle with some salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Place the buttered chicken in the oven and roast it for about 1 hour and 30-45 minutes until it is cooked. The legs should feel quite loose in the bird, and when a skewer is stuck in to the thigh, the juices should run clear. If it begins to look quite dark while it is cooking, cover it with some foil. When it is cooked, carve the chicken into pieces and cut these into roughly bite-sized chunks.
To prepare the fennel bulbs, slice off the fronds and reserve them for later. Next, cut off the stalks and discard them, then cut the bulb into roughly ½cm (¼in) slices.
Put the fennel, the lemon zest and juice and the olive oil in a bowl, toss gently and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Drain off a little of the liquid and use it to toss the salad leaves, then place the leaves in the middle of a large serving plate.
Add the chicken pieces to the serving plate, followed by the blood orange slices and seasoned fennel slices. Scatter over the reserved fennel fronds and the finely chopped parsley.
When buying blood oranges, the amount of reddish-pink blushing on their skin will tell you how red the fruit will be on the inside. The more colour it has, then the more flavour it has, so look for oranges with lots of red.
We hear more and more all the time of the virtues of cider vinegar. It's been used as a natural treatment for many centuries. I've recently been using a lot of Karmine, a delicious cider vinegar made by The Apple Farm in Tipperary. The cider vinegar they make is both unfiltered and unpasteurised, so after opening the bottle, the naturally occurring bacteria causes a jellyfish-like object to form. This is known as the 'mother' and is hugely beneficial to the flavour of the cider vinegar in the bottle. Their cider vinegar is lovely in salad dressings and sauces, or you can take a few teaspoons taken in some warm water with honey in the morning. The Apple Farm sells apple juice and vinegar in food shops across the country, see theapplefarm.com